For rank and file Labour Representation Committees!

Submitted by Anon on 22 October, 2003 - 6:00

Solidarity and Workers' Liberty believe that what's needed now is rank and file Labour Representation Committees of trade unionists and socialists in every city across the country. We have been campaigning for seven years now for the unions to form a Labour Representation Committee.
Back in February 1996, Workers' Liberty warned: "The Labour Party is now led by open enemies of socialism. That is nothing new. But the present Labour leaders are open enemies of trade-union involvement in running the party, too, that is, of the very character of the Labour Party as it has been for nearly a century. This is new…"

We urged that the Blairites be fought "every inch of the way in the Labour Party and trade unions… by rousing the bedrock of the labour movement in defence of things long taken for granted by working-class people, like the welfare state" (WL 28).

In October 1996, as the 1997 General Election approached, and New Labour looked likely to defeat the Tories, we supported a vote for Labour but argued that: "Much will depend on the socialists organising the labour movement to fight for its own needs against a Labour government pursuing Tory policies".

Otherwise the Labour victory could also be a Labour defeat, empowering the Blairites to pursue "the destruction of the Labour Party as it has so far been", the expulsion of the labour movement from politics or the reduction of its participation to "a means by which the labour movement ties itself to the political machinery of its exploiters and enemies". Against the Blairites, "the old aim of the labour movement in politics must be proclaimed anew: to achieve a workers' government, a government prepared to serve the working class…" (WL 35)

In February 1997 we carried a call by Geoff Martin, convenor of the London region of the public services union Unison. "There is now a solid case for reforming the Labour Representation Committee as a pressure group within the party. This was originally formed by trade unionists and socialists who realised that the old Liberal Party could not be relied upon to represent the interests of labour. More than 100 years later, a similar set of conditions has been created by the hijackers of New Labour" (WL 38).

The unions remained largely docile. We explained (September 1997): "We are not yet in a position to launch a full-scale Labour Representation Committee that could organise the unions to fight to save Labour as a workers' party and, if we lose that fight definitively, put up trade union candidates in elections. We are in a situation where we can attempt to pull together the key activists… who understand the centrality of mass labour movement politics" (WL 42).

We continued to try to do that. In September 1998 we argued that the new situation with the Blair government and the closing-down of the Labour Party's internal channels meant that socialists had to investigate standing independent working-class candidates against New Labour in elections. "To continue to forgo socialist propaganda in elections in deference to the monopoly of the anti-socialist and anti-working-class Blair party is increasingly to boycott our own politics…" Such efforts must, however, be combined with a "campaign to get the unions within the structures of New Labour to fight for class politics" (WL 49).

In a broadsheet on "Issues and directions for the Socialist Alliance" (September 2000) we advocated work in the labour movement to get "unions dissatisfied with the [New Labour] machine forming their own Labour Representation Committee, which might take shape initially as a ginger group in the Labour Party… and later become part of a new mass workers' party".

However, as we would comment in Solidarity 3/14 (11 October 2002), "in the earlier years of the Blair government, almost all the union leaders were servile and compliant, and the notion of a broad new political action committee based on at least a significant minority of trade unions came to look remote and unrealistic".

The emergence of the "awkward squad" of new trade union leaders-Crow in RMT, Hayes in CWU, Rix in ASLEF, Serwotka in PCS, Simpson in Amicus, Woodley in TGWU-changed that. We wrote: "Whether the phrase 'Labour Representation Committee' will catch on or not, socialists should be arguing for the trade-union 'awkward squad' to get together, to organise links down to local and grassroots level, and make itself an organised, consistently-campaigning force in the labour movement…"

We warned-and the warning still holds good-that: "we cannot afford to…slow down the tempo of socialist political and electoral activity to the pace of the mixed bag of 'awkward squad' trade-union leaders. But socialists need to transform the labour movement, not just build an 'alternative' alongside it… [We] should assist, ally with, and promote the organisation of the 'awkward squad' right down to grass-roots level" (Solidarity 3/14).

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